Authentic Leadership Insights

Leadership is an Art, not a Science

Creating an Adaptive and Developmental Culture

By Susan M. Shirley & Bill Shirley, BT, MCC

The assumption is often made that those in management positions are (automatically) leaders.  There is a world of difference between being a manager and being a leader.  Many managers are not good leaders.  Many of the best leaders in an organization are not managers; they are not even in positions of formal authority.

Our university business schools have developed the Science of Management.  Management, in its simplest terms, is the methodology for controlling processes to efficiently accomplish a particular task or an intended goal.  Managers reflexively focus is on doing things right.

These same universities have attempted to develop the Science of Leadership.  While Leadership can be learned — those who desire to develop their leadership skills can do it — I’m not persuaded that Leadership can be taught.  It can be coached, but not taught.  Yes, there are certain universal principles of leadership, but knowing those principles will not make anyone a leader.  Leaders reflexively focus on doing the right thing.

Managers are “created” from above.  A manager is a manager by virtue of the authority vested in the manager’s position from above.  The manager’s authority is extrinsic to the manager.  The manager’s power comes from outside the person.

Leaders are “created” from within and below.  A leader is a leader by virtue of the authority vested in that person by those who choose to follow.  The leader’s authority is intrinsic to the leader; the leader’s authority has more to do with “Being” than “Doing.”  The leader’s power comes from within the person.  (Authority is external, power is internal.)

There are many opinions as to what constitutes the Core Essence of Leadership.  From our perspective, there are three attributes that define Authentic Leadership.

First, the Mastering the Art of Authentic Leadership is a life-long journey, not a destination.  Your effectiveness as a leader dissolves the instant you think you have arrived.

Second, Authentic Leadership emanates more from the heart and less from the head, more from intuition and feeling, and less from logic and thinking.  Yes, logical, analytical problem solving skills are necessary, but NOT sufficient for success.  High Social Emotional Intelligence (SEI) skills are essential, especially Self Awareness and Empathy.

Third, Authentic Leaders must create “HOT” Relationships with those they wish to lead: “HOT” Relationships are grounded in Honesty, Openness and Trust.  Trust is the corner stone of all leadership!

People willingly follow a leader because they see their leader as an authentic, vulnerable human being; complete but not perfect, knowledgeable, but not all-knowing, and most importantly, caring without being weak or smothering.  (“I must know how much you care before I care about how much you know!”)

The essence of leadership is the ability to gain Buy-in to the organization’s values, vision, purpose and priorities.  Without gaining Buy-in, the leader’s only alternative is the blunt instrument of coercion which is not an effective leadership tool.

In my judgment, the three keys to Mastering the Art of Leadership are to 1) hold those you lead as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole, 2) embrace the belief that “all leadership is example, …”, and 3) just accept, with gentle good humor, that our example will not always be one we want our followers to emulate!

Enjoy your Journey.  A little learning happens when you are having fun!

What management issues do you have?  Email your questions, comments or requests to  All emails will be answered.